Panflute Kite (Revisited)

The Panflute is a soft kite (no sticks) made of 7 connected windsock like tubes or cells to form a sled. It has a good wind range and flies at an angle of 30-40 degrees. It flies with a side-to-side sway, or wobble, making this kite very pleasant to look at in the sky, particularly with a long ribbon tail, or other decoration.

[photo] The kite is a great for families. It can be stuffed in a bag, and flown on the beach. Bury the handle in the sand and leave flying to mark your picnic spot. It is made from just about any light weight fabric, even soft un-sealed ripstop in curtain shops is fine for this kite. You will need reasonable sewing skills for the 8 major seams, all straight, and able to hem, and add loops for the bridle lines and tails. up Back to Anthony's Kite Workshop
left Read other peoples responses, results and photos
left Paul and his Fire Fighters (A panflute story)


Cut out Templates and 14 Panels

Start by making the two templates (or measure directly) from cardboard, to cut seven (7) of each type panel ('B' for the bottom, 'T' for the top panel). For aesthetics try alternating contrasting colours for each cell or create a rainbow color sequence. [photo]

The kite is very forgiving, so while a hem allowance should be included in the cut pieces, it isn't required, and I haven't really bothered with one.

Similarly you do not need to use exactly the measurements suggested on the template. A bit shorter or longer is fine, same with the widths. As long as the base width, at the lower end of bottom template 'B', (7 cm in this diagram) is roughly doubled (14 cm) for the top of 'B', and doubled again for top 'T' piece, (28 cm), everything should work out fine.

You may even consider changing the bottom measurement of the top 'T' piece the same as the 'B' piece so the tubes can be later restricted or closed, to improved the tube stiffness created by the wind pressure.

[photo] For example:- My giant panflute (see photo top right) is 2.5 metres long and the base width is 16 cm (making the top measurement of piece 'T' 64cm wide. These were calculated to fit the ripstop pieces I had available. Because of the size the bottom of the tube was later restricted.

Sewing Pieces Together

[photo] [photo]

On all 14 pieces hem the top and bottom edges.

Then starting with one 'B' and one 'T' piece, for an outside tube, and pin them together along one side edge with the outside faces facing each other. That is the top and bottom edge hems which is rolled on inside of the panel should be facing outward.

At this point also sew some loops at both ends of the seam at the corners of the final kite. These will be used to attach the bridle line and tail lines of the finished kite. The bridle loop should be directed out to the side, as that is where the pull comes from, while the tail or drogue loops should downward in the same direction as the hem.

You may also like to do a second run along the seam with a zigzag stitch along the edge to prevent fraying. Isn't necessary, but will make the kite more robust and last longer. I didn't do this with my first panflute and it is now (5 years later) showing problems due to frying on the material in on spot. Still flies great though (see photo left).

Side panels for larger version

In larger versions you may like to add a triangular side panel rather than a bridle loop. The panel is made by layering and sewing together, material to make it thicker and stiffer, with more pieces added as you get to the corner with the bridle point, to thicken it even more. Its job is not to add surface area to the kite, but to spread the forces from the bridle line across the kite as evenly as possible, and prevent kite from folding up due to those forces. It is NOT needed for a normal sized panflute.

In this case prepare the side panel first, and hem both outside edges. Position it between the top and bottom pieces, before sewing through all three panels.

Next panel pieces, close the outside edge tube

[photo] Fold the first two pieces along the seam, so the outside of the pieces is now facing out. Taking another pair of top and bottom pieces sandwich the first two pieces (forming a tube) between these. Top piece over top piece, so the two outsides face each other. Similarly with the bottom. If you remember the outside sides of the panels face each other when sewing you should never get this wrong.
[photo] [photo]

Pin them carefully together and sew through all four pieces, to finish the edge tube and start the next tube. This can be tricky so take your time and do it right. Run the edge through the sewing machine again using a zigzag or blanket stitch to stop the material fraying.

Continue adding tubes

Repeat with another pair of top and bottom panels, twice more, to complete three tubes and one side of the middle tube of the kite.

Repeat for the other side

Start the process again but starting from the other end of the kite, with the opposite edge of the pieces. When you run out of pieces you should have two halves of the kite completed with only the last seam of the middle tube to be sewn.

The final seam (middle tube)

[photo] [photo]

This last seam is the most difficult as you have to roll both groups of panels into the middle cell you are closing off. That is the whole kite is rolled up, inside the middle tube, which is then completed, inside out.

Take your time and figure it out, and remember, the inside faces of the top and bottom panel will face out. Use lots of things like, pins, bulldog clips, clothes pegs, or anything else, to hold the two rolls of material tightly together in a roll, and help you position the four panels for the final seam. Only when you are sure you have it right, and you will not sew though more than the four panels you intend, should you proceed with the final seam.
[photo] [photo]

When the final seam has been sewn, pull the kite out of the middle tube to form its normal working shape, removing any pegs, pins, or bulldog clips you used to hold the rolls of fabric together.

Bridles and Tails

To the loops you sewed at the front (upper) corners of the kite tie a bridle line approximately 2 metres long. Longer the better, a cheap braided nylon builders line is good for this. Then tie a loop in the middle of this line to attach the flying line. Repeat for the lower corners using a much shorter length (about a metre), so you can attach a tail to the middle.

The plan calls for a drogue, to steady the kite. However I found a 5 metre ribbon tail, or tube will work much better, (and look good too). You can also just attach two separate tails directly to the two lower corners instead. Almost anything will do as its job is only to remove some of the side-side 'wobble', of the kite. It should be a good length. If a drogue is used put it at the end of at least a 2 meter line, so it is some distance from the kite.


[photo] [photo] Now go fly it :-) [photo] [photo]

Large Panflute Notes

When I scaled up this kite I found the kite tended to collapse (folding in half) as too much air was lost through the ends of the tubes. To stop this I sewed about 5cm up the middle of the end of each tube, dividing the end of the tube into two (see photo right). This restricted the airflow exiting the tube, increasing the internal pressure and making the kite more ridged, and less prone to collapse.

Andrew Kilborn had some great success, in joining the leading edge of the top cell panels to its neighbours. See his email in responses for a photo. This means that when one cell inflates, it will open the neighbouring cell a little allowing the wind to inflate the next cell as well.

In my own giant panflute I also added some triangular side flaps using a thicker red ripstop (see photo), and layered even more pieces (with double sided tape and sewing) at the corner where the bridle lines are attached. Though this should not be required, I believe it helps to spread the load with the extra thickness also helping to stop the folding collapse of the kite. Also, though I have not performed any real test, I believe it would make the kite fly at a higher angle. Looks good in any case. Aside: don't make them too big!

[photo] Due to its large size, a extra line is sewn on top of the hem across leading edge of all the 'B' pieces, from one side to the other. This is best done while the kite is being built, using a lines from each corner, sewn along the leading hem as the pieces are joined together, and overlapping on the center panel. The line prevents the huge pull of the kite ripping out the kite seams, especially in the leading edge corners. This isn't a problem with a normal sized panflute, but a must, in a larger kite like this one.

Also I recommend on a big kite like this, that the bridle line is completely detachable, so that it can be easily replaced. I have found that in any sort of kite to kite conflict, it is the bridle lines that take most of the wear and tear. In the three years my giant panflute has now been flying I have replaced its bridle lines 4 times!

My large panflute can fly from a very light breeze (with some tails removed) to near gale force winds that few kites can fly in. One weekend it flew in such strong winds that eventually caused the bridle lines of the kite to give causing the kite to fly off into the bay! Lucky for me a friendly jet skier went out to pick up the soggy mass for me.

[photo] On other occasion with light winds all the other kites dropped out of the sky as the wind died, with the panflute the last to do so. I did remove the larger center tail, leaving the two smaller side tails to save weight.

To finish with the photo to the right is another large panflute created by Phil Holoway, a local kite club member. The tail on the panflute is very long, and clearly shows the huge "swish" the kite gives its tail. Also note that the kite was made with 8 cells instead of 7, resulting in the kite being much wider. Any more than 8 cells, I would then recommend the addition of a extra central fin, turning the kite into a double arched panflute.

Other ideas...

Once you have made one of these kites, they become easy to make, and fly. They make great Christmas presents, and you can make them in what ever color the receiver likes. You could even sew their name down the lower center (middle) panel (applique) before sewing the pieces together to make it very a very personal gift.

The individual panels also do not have to be the same color. You can sew different colored pieces together before cutting out the panels themselves to make the kite look even more interesting. See photo on Phil Holloway's panflute, above right.

The kites also like to swish tails, so you can add interesting and fancy tails to the kite. My big one isn't great, but the long tapering blue tails (12 meters long for the middle one) with white inflated balls inserted long them (called "space balls" tail) makes the kite very interesting to look at in the sky. I get lots of comments about it.

There has been some discussion about inflation problems, generally resulting in the kite folding up length-wise. A simple solution for an existing panflute is as what I did for my large one, sew the ends of the tubes partly closed to increase the pressure inside. Another idea is to make only the tubes along the edges smaller at the back, or taper completely closed.

Responses, Results & Photos

For more information about peoples experience with building a kite with this plan, and what results they have achieved, I suggest you look at the various Responses I have received. Also on that page I have included photos of other panflutes I have found on the net.

Many thanks to all who have replied.

If like this plan, and/or build one, please mail and let me know what you think. Including any ideas, suggestions or other experiences. That way I can add them to the above so others can read and benefit from your results. :-) Photos especially welcome!

Sources and References

This plan was developed from a internet plan by Buck Childers. That plan is now offline, so the link is to the way back machine archive of the plan.

This in turn was based on a short article in the Dutch magazine _De Zette Vieger_, Nbr.6 which references another kite newsletter by Piet van Stallduinen.

Buck Childers plan was revised for the Queensland Kite Flyers Society's Newsletter for which I was the editor, and later became this plan. Since then it has grown, becoming more detailed and more than three times larger with more detailed construction notes and options.

Created: 1 December 1998
Updated: 10 Sept 2015
Original Plan courtesy of Buck Childers
Author: Anthony Thyssen, <Anthony.Thyssen@gmail.com>
WWW URL: https://antofthy.gitlab.io/kites/panflute/